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Reflections on the Attraction of Steam Locomotives


The lure of the steam locomotive has aroused endless speculation, especially among those who have never experienced it.  Why has this mechanical giant of a bygone day so long outlived its economic destiny in the minds and hearts of rail enthusiasts across the country and throughout the world? 


Some would advance the theory that nostalgia plays an important part.  Our fancy for flashing pistons and side rods, they say, is little more than a reaching out for our own youth, a hunger for the far and lost.  Perhaps so. 


Yet how, then, do you explain the young railroad fans who grew up to the sound and sight of diesels and have come late, but just as eagerly to the pursuit of steam? 


My own belief is that the wedding of steam and steel was one of those rare combinations of beauty and utility that have a timeless appeal to the imagination.  Steam locomotives were more than machines they were destiny on wheels.  Their power was awesome and their prize a national linked together with steel rails.  White plumes of engine smoke streamed above the land like the banners of conquering host. 


Now history has passed them by and, in an economic sense, so have we.  But all that an explosion of a new technology helps us to create for the present and the future takes nothing away from indeed, it is based on the accomplishments of men in the age of steam.  We are not weaker but stronger for acknowledging our debt. 


To me there is nothing incompatible with our reach for the future in pausing for an affectionate look at the Pacifics, the Mikados, the Consolidations and all the steam giants with their singing names.  After all, steam locomotives were in their time as bold an experiment of any of ours. 


W. Graham Claytor, Jr.

President, Southern Railway System

Speaking at the 1966 National Railway Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia


Imagine being seated in a dining car on the Southern Crescent back in April 1976. Your waiter would present this menu for your dining enjoyment.  The gentle sway of the dining car and the sound of the rails offer background music for your evening meal and journey through time to your destination.




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